The Kinks Are the
Village Green Preservation Society

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Classic Rock Review 1968 Album of the Year

The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation SocietyAlthough it barely made a ripple critically or commercially upon its release the concept album The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society would go on to become one of the most influential in rock history. Like many great works the album was born out of a series of “happy accidents”. The band’s composer and front man, Ray Davies, had originally wanted to do a concept album about life in London but after a trip to rural Devonshire, England he decided to work on the “village” concept instead. Also, by 1968 the Kinks had begun to experience diminished chart success with pop singles, so they made a concerted change  towards more substantial musical art. While most bands of the era were into their psychedelic phase and experimenting with newfangled sounds, the Kinks went back to their English roots and thoughtfully reflected on the loss of rural England to the modernization of the swinging sixties. They composed songs that blended the best of their rock and roll sound with various ethnic instrumentation and the result is a masterpiece that sits at the crossroads of rock history. So, despite the plethora of great albums during the year of 1968, we chose this Kinks work as our 1968 Album of the Year.

Personally, I take credit for The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society becoming Classic Rock Review’s Album of the Year for 1968. As an avid fan of the group’s 1981 album Give the People What They Want, I decided to explore further Kinks songs in my father’s vast music collection. I listened to a few tracks from this album and, what really ingrained the piece in my head was when I watched Edgar Wright’s film Hot Fuzz a day or so later. It contains two tracks from this album, and they fit perfectly into the film. So suddenly reminded of the album, I endeavored to listen to it again and I found myself no longer liking it but loving it!

The Kinks were one of the most prolific bands of the sixties producing an album every year from 1964 onwards, producing yearly releases through the mid seventies. The album immediately prior to the Village Green was 1967’s Something Else which was the last time the Kinks worked with American producer Shel Talmy, clearing the way for Ray Davies to explore with more creative freedom. Prior to 1968, concept albums were not known to be commercially successful and The Kinks knew this better than most, as their earlier concept album Face to Face did not do well on the market, but Davies was driven to give it another try.

The concept of the album is a nostalgic look back at rural English life. Each song deals with a particular part of that life gone by. I will discuss what I believe each song is saying a bit farther down. The album is the last to include the original four members of The Kinks, as bassist Pete Quaife left the group in early 1969. Due to the arrangements of these songs, Quaife’s role was diminished on this album.Now onto the individual songs!

The title track is a call to arms to preserve the rural English way of life. Which brings up the question would the album be better suited if the title track was the last song on the album instead of the first, seeing as it’s a sort of culmination of the themes on the album. That said, there are really no other lingering questions I have about this album.


The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society by The Kinks
Released: November 22, 1968 (Pye)
Produced by: Ray Davies
Recorded: Pye Studios, London November 1966–October 1968
Side One Side Two
The Village Green Preservation Society
Do You Remember Walter?
Picture Book
Johnny Thunder
Last of the Steam-Powered Trains
Big Sky
Sitting by the Riverside
Animal Farm
Village Green
Starstruck
Phenomenal Cat
All of My Friends Were There
Wicked Annabella
Monica
People Take Pictures of Each Other
Band Musicians
Ray Davies – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica, Sccordion, Flute, Horns
Dave Davies – Guitars, Vocals
Nicky Hopkins – Keybopards, Mellotron
Peter Quaife – Bass, Vocals
Mick Avory – Drums, Percussion

 

The opening title track is also perhaps the most entertaining song on the album. The song opens with a fairly simple but catchy melody involving a guitar, flute and drums. The lyrics are a call for preservation;

God save little shops, china cups and virginity…”

This gave rise to fans shouting “God save the Kinks” in the years following the album’s release. Despite my wondering how the song would work closing the album out; it does a wonderful job of drawing the listener in and establishing the themes and tones of the album. The second track, “Do You Remember Walter?”, was recently mentioned by Edgar Wright on twitter as basically describing Gary King, the main character of the film The World’s End;

 

The song is about a man who was very popular in his young years but who has obviously not achieved much in life beyond having a good amount of fun in his younger years. The singer laments the fact that he and Walter wouldn’t even know each other if they met in the modern day. The song ends on the line, “People often change but memories of people can remain,” this is similar to the lines in a later track called “People Take Pictures of Each Other”. Musically the piano intro almost sounds like ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” for a moment before the drums and Dave Davies‘ guitar rolls in. Despite the slightly melancholy subject matter of a person growing up and becoming little more than a cog in the wheel of the world, the song remains fairly upbeat.

After this comes “Picture Book”. Mick Avory‘s drums in this song have an almost garage band feeling to them and it’s wonderful. It stays connected to the albums theme of looking back at the past as “Picture Books” are obvious ways in which we categorize and view the past. It’s a really fun song that I could easily see being played over a commercial for cameras. Even though cameras are slowly dying as their inclusion on cell phones has rendered them all but obsolete. Strangely that makes the song work even better for the album in some ways. “Johnny Thunder” seems to be a about a man who escaped his small town and spent the rest of his life on the go. “Old Johnny vowed that he would never / Ever end up like the rest / Johnny Thunder rides the highway”. The acoustic guitar introduction to the song has an exciting quality and Ray Davies’ vocal pitch changes when the backing vocals come in and are a fun musical aesthetic that is almost never heard in music anymore.

The best part about the next track is that the way it builds up ‘steam’ seems to mirror the songs title “The Last of the Steam Powered Trains”. A harmonica is employed in the song as well. It’s both a nod to vagabonds riding trains and a somber sort of sendoff for the dying technology. The drums are steady but increase in speed and you can almost visualize them as the train’s wheels turning faster and faster. The song just gets better and better as it builds steam. It adds in a few more instruments and even some clapping. As the song reaches its climax you can picture a train mounting a hill and building energy as it does only to crest the hill and coast for a second before it starts to power itself again. The song paints a wonderful visual picture with music and is an absolute joy to listen to. On “Big Sky”, Ray Davies does a sort of narration throughout the song instead of singing. I’m not completely sure what the song is saying. I believe it’s essentially commenting on the fact that all of our human problems are essentially pointless when faced with something as big and majestic as the sky but that is just my guess.

One of my many favorite tracks on this album is “Sitting By the Riverside”. It’s a completely different type of song from the first six songs on the album. It has a similar theme to “Big Sky” as it conjures the image of a person relaxing on a riverside and enjoying the beauty of nature. I also tend to think of Gondola boat drivers singing in Italian to their passengers when I listen to the song. It’s interesting that at two separate points in the song it feels like it’s about to go in a radically different direction musically but quickly returns to the main flow of the song. It’s amazing to listen to how much of this song is done with Ray Davies’ vocals. “Animal Farm” is after this and it has a completely upbeat tempo throughout. The song seems to comment on the idea that rural life is simpler and more peaceful than city life. The whole song seems like an optimistic and idealist view of a farm from the perspective of someone who longs to live on one. I believe the mellotron makes its first real appearance in the background of this song.

The Kinks on "the village green"My favorite track on the entire album is “Village Green”. This was the earliest song, recorded during the sessions for Something Else, and set the theme which inspired everything on the album. A large amount of wind instruments create a stirring, slightly melancholy beginning to the song. The character of the song first describes the town he came from and his past happiness there with a woman named Daisy. He then spends the rest of the song lamenting leaving it as it has become a tourist trap and “Daisy’s married Tom the Grocer boy”. The wind instruments really lend a sort of sad vibe to the song that allows you to slip right into the feeling of it. Conversely, I’m not really sure how “Starstruck” fits into the albums concept. My guess as to how this really connects is that big cities have a tendency to chew up innocent people from small towns. Musically, Avory’s drums take center stage through most of this song.

The album goes through a radical music change with “Phenomenal Cat”. The song starts with what sounds like a wood flute solo that reminds you of something you’d hear in a forest. The entire song has a dream like fairy tale mood to it. It seems to be touching on small town’s penchant for myths that spring up around certain characters, people or even animals that reside inside of them. The ‘la la la’ sections of the song sound like the vocalist was inhaling helium before takes but it helps to add to the strange quality of the song.

The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society continues to change as the next song starts off with an accordion dance number. “All of My Friends Were There” reminds me a lot of the Pennsylvania Polka but that’s just because I’m used to hearing the accordion within it. It’s only fitting that an album about rural England would contain an accordion number as that was long known as the instrument of common rural Europeans. The lyrics themselves point to the embarrassment that can come from standing out or performing in a small town where you know every member of an audience. Ray Davies even sings as if he is covering a European folk song.

“Wicked Annabella” returns the album to its more rock oriented roots but it still has some tricks up its sleeve. Dave Davies is the lead vocalist on this track and there is an echo on Davies’ voice to give it a spooky impression. The guitar on the album is heavily distorted to add to the spooky nature of it. The lyrics deal with a woman who is the town black sheep and because of her reclusive nature she has become the town witch and boogey man who people tell their children about to scare them into falling asleep at night. Every small town does seem to have someone like this.

Once more the album does a ‘180’ with the next song, “Monica”. The character of the song’s title is the complete opposite of Wicked Annabella so it makes sense that the song would be completely different. Monica is the girl every guy wants to marry in the town. The song has a Latin jazz feel to it which fits perfectly with the idea that everyone wants to love the character of Monica.  I love the fact that all of the characters in this album seem to be representations of people every small town has. “People Take Picture of Each Other” is a fun ending to the album that sort of blends “All of My Friends Were There” with some of the albums other influences such as “Do You Remember Walter?”. It is a pretty literal song as it is about people taking picture of things to remember them. It might not be the albums strongest act but it holds up when compared to the rest of the album.

Upon its original release, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society only sold about 100,000 copies and, 45 years after its release, it has yet to reach Gold record status. The Kinks continued to be an extremely dynamic band that adapted to three decades of rock and roll changes, constantly evolving and doing what they wanted to do. In 1973 and 1974, the group released the albums Preservation Act 1 and Preservation Act 2 respectively, which Ray Davies later acknowledged as sequels to this album, when he referred to the three as his “Preservation trilogy”. In many ways, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society stands out in 1968 for innovating via the use of classic sounds and instruments. Along with that the Kinks presented a clear concept album which contains themes and messages that should be clear to anyone who comes from a small town even up to the modern day. This wasn’t something that was done a lot as many of rock and roll’s first forays into concept albums were a bit confusing and disjointed. Unfortunately in a strange twist of fate this Kink’s album has become something that needs Preservation itself. It has been dubbed a ‘cult classic’ but anyone with ears should be able to hear it’s simply a classic. People should discuss the Kinks as one of the great bands up there with the Beatles, and the Stones. So let this be the first act in the movement that will bring about this album’s very own Preservation Society!

God save the Kinks, china cups and virginity!

~ J.D. Cook

1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums and our Album of the Year for 1968.

 

Beggars Banquet by The Rolling Stones

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Beggars Banquet by Rolling StonesReturning to their blues-based roots rock following the psychedelic pop of their 1967 album, Their Satanic Majesties Request, Rolling Stones hit their true artistic stride with Beggars Banquet. While most critics heralded this album as a “return to form” due to the predominance of blues-based roots rock, it was also a significant leap forward. This album began the group’s highest quality musical era, followed by Let It Bleed in 1969 and Sticky Fingers in 1971, which expanded the musical formula established on this album. Still, with a solid slate of compositions and top-notch production by Jimmy Miller, Beggars Banquet may be the group’s finest album ever.

The album’s production saw a major shift in responsibilities. Miller described guitarist Keith Richards as “a real workhorse”, co-writing most of the material and often recording multiple parts on each track. This was mostly due to the infrequent presence of group founder Brian Jones, who had been a major influence on the sound of past albums but had begun to behave erratically due to his drug use and emotional problems. Jones could never really be relied on and would show up when he was in the mood to play, often being more of a distraction than an asset.

Although the album was not released until December 1968, much of it was recorded in the early part of the year. These sessions also resulted in the non-album single “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, one of the group’s most popular and recognizable songs. Written by Richards and lead vocalist, Mick Jagger, the song employs an infectious riff and opaque lyrics which may have been inspired by William Blake’s poem The Mental Traveller. Released in May 1968, the song previewed the sound of the upcoming Beggars Banquet album.


In Search of the Lost Chord by The Moody Blues
Released: December 6, 1968 (Decca)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, March–July 1968
Side One Side Two
Sympathy For the Devil
No Expectations
Dear Doctor
Parachute Woman
Jigsaw Puzzle
Street Fighting Man
Prodigal Son
Stray Cat Blues
Factory Girl
Salt of the Earth
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Jones – Guitars, Mellotron, Sitar, Tamboura, Vocals
Bill Wyman – Bass, Percussion, Vocals
Charlie Watts – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

The tribal rhythms signify from the start that this is album is a unique listen. Largely a Jagger composition, the lyrics are a first-person narrative from the point of view of Lucifer, traversing infamous historical moments right up to the (then) present day with the line “I shouted out ‘Who Killed the Kennedys?'” put in just days after Robert Kennedy’s assassination in June 1968. This is all backed by an intense rock arrangement, which builds on the percussive rhythms with piano by Nicky Hopkins and a repeated chorus yelps of “woo woo” by group members and several studio guests.

“No Expectations” is a simple and beautiful acoustic blues song, which sets the table for future Stones ballads such as “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, “Wild Horses” and “Angie”, Jones plays an acoustic slide guitar above the strumming by Richards in this melodic quasi-tribute to Robert Johnson. This is followed by “Dear Doctor”, an almost farcical attempt at blue grass which, despite its use of authentic instrumentation, feels really forced and out of place.

“Parachute Woman” is pure blues with simple rhythm topped by distant electric guitar and a raw and murky atmosphere led by Jagger’s mumbled sexual lyric and intense harmonica playing. “Jigsaw Puzzle” bookends the first side of Beggars Banquet with another extended rock highlight. The music is led by the very strong rhythm of drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Bill Wyman, who are joined in turn by Richards’ slide guitar, Jaggar’s strummed acoustic, and Hopkins’ honky-tonk piano. It constantly builds in intensity though its six minute duration with Dylan-esque lyrics and vocal patterns.

The second side begins with “Street Fighting Man”, the point on the album where Jagger shines brightest, with this great melodic journey throughout interpreting some politically controversial lyrics. The tune is a basic rock song built on a cassette recording of Richards on acoustic guitar and Watts on a 1930s toy drum set. However, it does morph a bit towards a more psychedelic feel near the end, with Jones performing a distinctive sitar and tamboura. Robert Wilkins’ “Prodigal Son” is the only cover on the album and it never relents from its acoustic drive and has a great sound right down to Jagger’s hickish vocals.

Compared to the other fine material on side two, “Stray Cat Blues” is a rather ho-hum rocker, aside from the interesting and intense outro with Watts’ fine drumming. “Factory Girl” works well as an ethnic jam with a three chord, piano-driven pattern. It is similar to an Appalachian folk tune in its minimal approach and features guest Ric Grech on fiddle. “Salt of the Earth” provides a melodramatic conclusion to the album as another acoustic ballad. The highlight of the song comes at the bridge, which is followed by the first full rock arrangement. Although this track contains some production flaws, it is still a great ending to the album.

Beggars Banquet reached the Top 5 on charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Within days of its release, the band filmed the full television production of Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus where they performed several songs from the album. The show also featured several contemporary guests such as The Who, Jethro Tull, John Lennon, and Eric Clapton, and was originally meant to be aired on the BBC. However, the Rolling Stones withheld it because they felt their own performance was substandard and it wasn’t released in any form until 1996.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

In Search of the Lost Chord by The Moody Blues

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In Search of the Lost Chord by Moody BluesIn Search of the Lost Chord is a deeply philosophical album by The Moody Blues, built around the concepts of quest and discovery. Musically, the album builds on the rich arrangements of Days of Future Passed with the exception being the lack of use of a full orchestra. The members of the group played the approximately 33 instruments themselves, exploring eclectic sounds from the Indian sitar and tambura to the orchestral oboe, flute, harp, and cello. But at its core In Search of the Lost Chord is still a rock album, accented by the same mix of British pop, psychedelia, and spoken-word poetry that the Moody Blues used on their previous album.

Bringing together these vast worlds was the mellotron of keyboardist Mike Pinder, a device which could mimic dozens of instrumental sounds. Pinder had worked at the company which developed the instrument in the early 1960s and later introduced the mellotron to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who used it on the Beatles’ 1966 single “Strawberry Fields Forever”. The long and dreamy notes of this instrument perfectly fit the psychedelic mood of this album with songs about Timothy Leary, the astral plane, and philosophical “lost chord”.

While the album’s approach seemed to be an experiment to see how far the group could go with any instruments they could find, the production of Tony Clarke kept it sounding more cohesive than many of its thematic cousins of the era. This was accomplished by focusing on the simple nearly as much as the complex, which keeps it from falling into a haze of obscurity.


In Search of the Lost Chord by The Moody Blues
Released: July 26, 1968 (Reprise)
Produced by: Tony Clarke
Recorded: Decca Studios, London, January – June 1968
Side One Side Two
Departure
Ride My See-Saw
Dr. Livingston, I Presume
House of Four Doors (Part 1)
Legend of a Mind
House of Four Doors (Part 2)
Voices In the Sky
The Best Way to Travel
Visions of Paradise
The Actor
The Word
Om
Band Musicians
Justin Hayward – Guitars, Keyboards, Sitar, Vocals
Mike Pinder – Piano, Mellotron, Harpsichord, Cello, Harp, Tambura
Ray Thomas – Flute, Saxophone, Oboe, French Horn, Vocals
John Lodge – Bass, Cello, Vocals
Graeme Edge – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

A dramatic rising sound behind poetic spoken word “Departure”, gets more and more desperate and intense before climaxing at the end. Written and recited by drummer Graeme Edge, the 48 second piece acts as an intro to “Ride My See-Saw”. Perhaps the most commercially known track on the album, “Ride My See-Saw” is a straight forward rocker with rhythmic motion and great bass by John Lodge, who was also the song’s composer. The song was released as a single but failed to chart initially (the song went to #3 on the UK charts when re-released in 1972). “Dr. Livingstone, I Presume” comes in as a bouncy English children’s song but soon matures to a more complex rock arrangement during the “we’re all looking for someone” refrain, which is sandwiched by two interesting guitar riff intervals. This song was written by multi-instrumentalist Ray Thomas and explores several historical figures along with the missionary explorer, Dr. David Livingstone.

Lodge’s “House of Four Doors” is a two-part, mellotron-infused, psychedelic ballad with rich vocal harmonies and creaking door effects, which each bring the listener through a different era of development in European music. The first features an acoustic and flute section and seems to preview some of the pastoral music of the future band Genesis, especially on Selling England by the Pound. Next is chamber music, led by a harpsichord and cello, followed by classical music featuring Pinder on piano, and finally the passage to the “futuristic” music of “Legend of a Mind”. One of the most creative Moody Blues tracks ever, “Legend of a Mind” is vocally and lyrically intriguing with contemporary lyrics about Timothy Leary, a Harvard professor and LSD enthusiast;

He’ll fly his astral plane, Takes you trips around the bay
Brings you back the same day, Timothy Leary…”

The song is also musically excellent, moving from soft acoustic verses to a more upbeat chorus to the guitar riff interludes to the fast waltz of the bridge before settling in with a long flute section by Thomas, who also composed the song and sings lead vocals. “House of Four Doors” (Part 2) is a short reprise led by the drum beat of Edge, to complete the mini suite and the first side.

Side Two begins with three absolute gems. Hayward’s pleasant and mellow “Voices in the Sky” is one of the most melodic songs on the album, with exquisite melodies during the verses. This simple acoustic song contains just enough musical splashes of flute, mellotron, and bass to give it a slight edge but is otherwise almost as straightforward and romantic as the previous year’s “Nights In White Satin”. While Pinder’s “The Best Way to Travel” goes in the opposite direction, it is just as interesting. It comes like an overloaded country song but with strong bass, reverb effects, and steady, droning drums. This Pink-Floyd influenced song suddenly halts for a middle organ section before the whole arrangement returns in a long, cosmic fade-in for the resolving conclusion. “Visions of Paradise” is a Hayward and Thomas collaboration, which features little else than Thomas’s flute riff and Hayward’s softly picked acoustic. Apparently resuming the drug-trip theme, this song may be even further “out there” than “The Best Way to Travel” with a surreal perception of paradise.

The deep, rich and sleepy arrangement of “The Actor” is driven by rather upbeat acoustic riff and Lodge’s accompanying bass. This is followed by Lodge reciting Edge’s second poem “The Word” with a naked vocal that interprets the album title’s meaning;

Two notes of the chord, that’s our full scope / But to reach the chord is our life’s hope / To name the chord is important to some…”

So they give it a word, and the word is “Om”. The final track by Pinder is canvased by very calm Eastern music for the vocals, solo during verses and deeply harmonized during choruses. Beyond the very interesting beginning, the rest of this six and a half minute track is more soundscape than song, including a deeply harmonized hummed reprise of “Ride My See Saw” at the very end of the song and album.

In Search of the Lost Chord peaked at #23 on the US album charts and #5 in the UK. 45 years later it continues to be highly regarded as a gem from the psychedelic/space rock era. Space exploration would go on to become the theme of the Moody Blues’ next album in 1969, To Our Children’s Children’s Children, dedicated to the Apollo 11 mission.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix Experience

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Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix ExperienceWhile Jimi Hendrix is an undeniable rock legend on his own, the group Jimi Hendrix Experience were a formidable power trio for a short but important period. Electric Ladyland was the last of three albums by the Experience and this double LP was their creative and musical apex. The only album to be produced Hendrix himself, the recordings spanned over a year in duration and were made on two continents using different (4 track/8 track) technologies. Naturally, this resulted in a very eclectic album that pivots on Hendrix’s vast talents and unique interpretations ranging from folk to pop to psychedelic blues.

The initial material for this third album was produced by Bryan “Chas” Chandler and recorded before the release of the group’s second album, Axis: Bold As Love, in December 1967. That album was a Top Ten commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic and set the stage for Electric Ladyland in mid 1968. Following those first recordings in London, production resumed during the Spring of 1968 at the brand new Record Plant Studios in New York City. During this time, Hendrix fell out with Chandler and assumed production responsibilities himself.

The result is an album of interesting compositions and unequaled sonic coloring. Splitting time between sixties psychedelic epics and timeless blues jams led by one of the greatest rock guitarists ever. Further, many of the tracks on the album expand beyond the traditional sound of the power trio by featuring collaborations with a range of outside musicians playing an array of instruments.


Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix Experience
Released: October 25, 1968 (Reprise)
Produced by: Jimi Hendrix
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London & Record Plant Studios, New York, July 1967-August 1968
Side One Side Two
…And the Gods Made Love
Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)
Crosstown Traffic
Voodoo Chile
Little Miss Strange
Long Hot Summer Night
Come On (Part I)
Gypsy Eyes
Burning of the Midnight Lamp
Side Three Side Four
Rainy Day, Dream Away
1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)
Moon, Turn the Tides…Gently Gently Away
Still Raining, Still Dreaming
House Burning Down
All Along the Watchtower
Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
Primary Musicians
Jimi Hendrix – Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Lead Vocals
Noel Redding – Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Vocals
Mitch Mitchell – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

A totally freaky use of backwards masking, tape loops, and sound effects make up the experimental opener “…And the Gods Made Love”. In an interview, Hendrix explained the choice of this track to open the album saying, “we knew people will jump on to criticize (this track), so I put it first to get it over with.” The smooth and soul-influence, yet odd-timed “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” follows as the default title song. The song comes complete with Hendrix overdubbing high-pitched harmonies and doing a bang-up job.

“Crosstown Traffic” is one of the earliest tracks on the album, recorded in London and on a four track machine. Beyond the tight, funk-influenced arrangements, this track features a compressed piano fed through miniature, hand-built Leslie speakers for a totally unique vibe. Featuring Traffic’s Dave Mason on backing vocals, “Crosstown Traffic” was released as a single and reached the Top 40. Mason’s band mate, Steve Winwood, plays organ on “Voodoo Chile”, a 15 minute bluesy tune a real live club feel, despite being recorded in a New York City studio. This song stays steady until the very end when it becomes frantic in a climax before breaking down into faux live sounds to end the first side.

The second side begins with “Little Miss Strange”, the most unique song on the album. Written by bassist Noel Redding, who also plays acoustic guitar and sings lead vocals, This British pop-oriented track does contain overlain and harmonized electric guitars by Hendrix, and great drumming (along with additional vocals) by Mitch Mitchell. “Long Hot Summer Night” sounds a lot like something from the contemporary group Cream, contains great riffs through the verses and features guest Al Kooper on piano. The first cover song on the album is Earl King’s “Come On (Part I)”, as a great rock version of pure blues song with a sound right out of the future (the seventies).

“Gypsy Eyes” is another great track of rudiments and riffs, a pure Hendrix classic. The song is infamous as an example of Hendrix’s studio perfectionism, as he and Mitchell recorded well over 50 takes, while Redding got fed up and abandoned his bass duties, leaving Hendrix to overdub that instrument himself. This was an early indicator of the upcoming break up of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The very psychedelic but extremely interesting and musically fruitful “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” features an over-the-top harpsichord and a great backing vocal ensemble. Featuring imaginative lyrics and released as a single from the album, the song builds to a crescendo towards end, completing the fine second side.

Unfortunately, the third side is far less rewarding albeit interesting because of sheer uniqueness. “Rainy Day, Dream Away” sounds cool and loose with a long warm up, but when it finally kicks in to the song proper, it feels unfocused and asymmetrical, fading out too fast during the second verse. “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” is a thirteen and a half  minute progressive which seems to deliberately take up space, with the exception of the middle improv section which includes an intense drum roll by Mitchell, breaking through the otherwise calm and serene setting. The song features a third member of Traffic, Chris Wood on flute. “Moon, Turn the Tides… Gently Gently Away” has more sound effects rotating in and out, but is really not very substantive.

The final side begins with the reprise “Still Raining, Still Dreaming”, a slightly more upbeat of song which starts side three, almost like a do-over, but still very loose and unfocused. The album recovers with “House Burning Down”, a wild, upbeat psychedelic funk with a marching rock beat during the verses. Perhaps a bit too acid-y with the pan effects, but still an enjoyable listen with a wild ending.

Although a cover of a Bob Dylan song from late in 1967, “All Along the Watchtower”, is perhaps the best Jimi Hendrix recording ever. It is sonically superior to anything else on the album, with a dark mood set perfectly and just the right amount of musicianship and effect. The lyrics echo lines in the biblical Book of Isaiah and the music features wild overdubs above the core acoustic chords along with some of Hendrix’s finest vocals ever. Hendrix had received advanced tapes from Dylan and began recording “All Along The Watchtower” less than a month after it was released on Dylan’s album John Wesley Harding. Rolling Stone Brian Jones provided some percussion on the song. One of the most popular opening riffs in rock and roll breaks into the droning rock beat of the closer “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”. The funky guitar sits beneath a pure psychedelic Delta blues riff which ends the double album on a high note.

Electric Ladyland reached #1 on the US album charts as well as #6 in the UK. After the dissolution of Jimi Hendrix Experience in early 1969, Hendrix formed the short-lived Gypsy Sun and Rainbows to perform at Woodstock that summer before forming the Band of Gypsys, with whom he would record one studio album. That album was recorded at Electric Lady Studios, which Hendrix opened in Greenwich Village, New York City.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

Astral Weeks by Van Morrison

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Astral Weeks by Van MorrisonAstral Weeks was the second solo album by Van Morrison, and in a lot of ways it was his own, direct counter-reaction to the debut album which was released in 1967 without Morrison’s consent and filled with weak studio outtakes. With a blending of folk, blues, jazz, and classical music, Astral Weeks was a complete departure from anything Morrison had done previously and the impressionistic, stream-of-consciousness nature of the music has received critical acclaim for four and a half decades and counting. Amazingly, most of the recording of the eight album songs was done in just two sessions and done among musicians who had never played together before.

Van Morrison got his start with the group Them, which had a handful singles in the mid 1960s. After an American tour in 1966, the band members became involved in a dispute with their manager over revenues, which ultimately led to the band’s break up. Convinced to record solo by producer Bert Berns, Morrison recorded eight songs in 1967, which were originally intended to be used as ‘A’ and ‘B’ sides of four singles. Instead, these songs were compiled and released as Morrison’s debut album Blowin’ Your Mind! without the singer even being consulted. Although the song “Brown Eyed Girl” did reach the Top 10 in the US, Morrison was dissatisfied with the album and sought out a new recording contract.

Morrison moved to Boston where he started to perform in an acoustic duo with double bassist and Berklee student Tom Kielbania. Soon, they began to develop the basic material for Astral Weeks. Producer Lewis Merenstein Went to see Morrison’s live act and was moved by his unique sound. Merenstein had a background in jazz, and decided to replace Kielbania with veteran bassist Richard Davis, who served as the session leader among the unfamiliar musicians. By all accounts, the sessions lacked basic formalities, with Morrison playing the songs on acoustic guitar and letting the session musicians play exactly what they felt.


Astral Weeks by Van Morrison
Released: November, 1968 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Lewis Merenstein
Recorded: Century Sound Studios, New York City, September-October 1968
Side One Side Two
Astral Weeks
Beside You
Sweet Thing
Cyprus Avenue
The Way Young Lovers Do
Madame George
Ballerina
Slim Slow Slider
Primary Musicians
Van Morrison – Acoustic Guitar, Lead Vocals
Jay Berliner – Guitars
Larry Fallon – Strings, Horns, Harpsichord
Richard Davis – Bass
Connie Kay – Drums

 

All eight songs were composed by Morrison and each original album side was subtitle, with side one called “In The Beginning”. The opening title song is one of the strongest on the album. A pure ballad of romanticism which gradually builds on its acoustic and double bass core, adding intensity throughout while not really changing chord structure and the long string-intensive fade out really drives home the central theme of “…to be born again in another time, in another place…” Morrison described it as “transforming energy, or going from one source to another with it being born again like a rebirth”.

The folksy, classical acoustic guitar of Jay Berliner begins “Beside You”, a truly improvised piece. A “spur of the moment” feel persists throughout, especially when it comes to Davis’ bass and, in fact, this song may be a little over the top for the average listener in its sheer roughness of composition. “Sweet Thing” is a lot closer to a traditional love song while still containing a bit of improvised vocals. Musically, it is held together by the glue of a semi-tight rhythm and the fine string accents of Larry Fallon coupled with the flute of John Payne. Lyrically, there positive and romantic lyrics in a natural setting;

And I will stroll the merry way and jump the hedges first
And I will drink the clear, clean water for to quench my thirst
And I shall watch the ferry-boats and they’ll get high
On a bluer ocean against tomorrow’s sky…

The first side ends with “Cyprus Avenue”, a great and romantically intense song with a core blues arrangement and topical Celtic/folk instrumentation. Fallon’s ever-present harpsichord and later fiddle makes the song a lot looser and more striking as it progresses. A long fade maintains (if not escalates) the intensity of this song, named after a wealthy street in Morrison’s hometown of Belfast.

Side two of Astral Weeks is subtitled “Afterwards” and begins with the most jazzy track on the album, “The Way Young Lovers Do”. With a just a splash of Mexican horns, this definite sixties swing song is a very rewarding listen in spite of being one of the shorter songs on the album. A great fiddle adds real flavor to the subdued acoustic tune, “Madame George”, which is otherwise driven by Morrison’s voice and never really leaves the exact chord progression over its nearly ten minute duration. Driven by vibraphone, “Ballerina” is still intense and romantic on its own, with nice sustained horn accents. The song is the only one composed while Morrison was still a member of Them in 1966. Unfortunately, the album seems to run out of steam by the time it reaches the closer “Slim Slow Slider”, which is little more than a showcase for the saxophone of John Payne.

Despite the fact that it failed to achieve significant sales success and reached gold status 33 years after its release, Astral Weeks remains a cult favorite. Morrison would soon achieve his commercial breakthrough with his third solo album, Moondance, released in early 1970.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

Wheels of Fire by Cream

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Wheels of Fire by CreamThe short-lived power trio Cream reached their apex with Wheels of Fire in 1968. This double album consists of one studio LP and one live LP, and it became the first ever platinum-selling double album, showing that the group had fully arrived just before they decided to call it quits. Wheels of Fire was produced by Felix Pappalardi, who also played various eclectic instruments and helped  choose the live material to provide a showcase for each band member. Most of the studio material was recorded in London and New York during late 1967, while the live performances were captured in San Francisco during early 1968.

Cream rarely performed any of their songs before they entered the studio. On Wheels of Fire, the studio material consists of two blues covers chosen by guitarist Eric Clapton along with original material composed by two distinct teams. Bassist and lead vocalist Jack Bruce teamed up with poet Pete Brown to write four of the studio tracks, while drummer Ginger Baker co-wrote three songs with musician Mike Taylor. During these sessions, Clapton did write the acoustic folk song “Anyone For Tennis” (on which he also sang), which was included on limited versions on the album but otherwise released as a single and featured in the movie, The Savage Seven.

The entire studio album was completed before Cream recorded material for the live album. For these live recordings, Pappalardi used a mobile recording studio outside the Fillmore Auditorium and the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, where six shows were recorded. From these recordings, four extended tracks were chosen to fill the second LP. “Traintime” is a showcase for Bruce due to his performance of a bluesy harmonica solo, Similarly, “Toad” features a lengthy drum solo by Baker, much longer than the original recording from Fresh Cream. Clapton’s guitar again shines on the classic blues tracks “Spoonful” and “Crossroads”, with the latter Robert Johnson classic becoming so identified with Clapton that he used the title, Crossroads, for his 1988 box set.


Wheels of Fire by Cream
Released: August, 1968 (Polydor)
Produced by: Felix Pappalardi
Recorded: IBC Studios, London & Atlantic Studios, New York, July 1967 – June 1968
Side One Side Two
White Room
Sitting on Top of the World
Passing the Time
As You Said
Pressed Rat and Warthog
Politician
Those Were the Days
Born Under a Bad Sign
Deserted Cities of the Heart
Anyone for Tennis?
Side Three Side Four
Crossroads
Spoonful
Traintime
Toad
Band Musicians
Jack Bruce – Bass, Cello, Harmonica, Acoustic Guitar, Recorder, Lead Vocals
Eric Clapton – Guitars, Vocals
Ginger Baker – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

As an encapsulated package of the best elements of Cream during their duration as a group, “White Room” has become the group’s essential song. Written by Bruce and Brown, the song features a sharp, direct rock beat and a great riff accented by hyper Clapton’s wah-wah guitar. The ethereal refrain section shows the upper range of what this band can accomplish compositionally and the reprise of opening psych-influenced intro is nicely complimented by the sudden return to the hard rock of the outro. Brown’s lyrics have been interrupted as the recollection of a bad acid trip, but certainly leave enough room for interpretation to traverse the decades.

The cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Sitting on Top of the World” is a heavy version of a classic 1920s blues song, with Clapton playing the type of blues guitar that Jimmy Page would soon adopt. The album then turns to some of its most original material. Baker and Taylor’s “Passing the Time” is a mulit-part song which starts as odd drum piece before fading into a completely different, psychedelic organ and viola fueled semi-ballad with some vocal harmonizing. A third section gives the song its title as a rock improve which again fades out as the light second section returns to finish the song. “As You Said” features Bruce on acoustic with some cello by Pappalardi and may be the oddest of Cream songs. In close competition for that title is “Pressed Rat and Warthog”, featuring spoken vocals by Baker, which he originally wanted his daughter to record. While on the surface this may seem like a farcical tune, the music beneath the voice rather interesting and dynamic.

The rock returns with “Politician”, which features more of the bluesy, riff-driven music which defined Cream. Clapton recorded two overdubbed “floating” guitars which. crisscross in the stereo mix. “Those Were the Days” continues the rock groove but with unique elements such as the call-and-response vocals and the mythical lyric matter by Brown. The contemporary blues cover of Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign” features a rotating rhythm by Baker, behind the screeching, whining guitars and slow-paced leads by “Slow Hand”. “Deserted Cities of the Heart” is the best song on the second side with a wild, almost funky rhythm but with a jazz/folk fusion, making this one a very rewarding listen and perhaps Cream’s most underrated song.

Wheels of Fire was a raving commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching #3 in the UK and #1 in the US. However, shortly after the album’s completion, the members of Cream decided that they wanted to go their separate ways. At the label’s urging, they embarked on a “farewell” tour in late 1968 with nearly the entire set consisting of songs from this double album. One final album called Goodbye, another hybrid of live and studio material, was released in early 1969, after the band had dissolved.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

Odessey and Oracle
by The Zombies

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Odessey and Oracle by The ZombiesThe Zombies only had two studio albums during their heyday of the 1960s. The first was their 1965 debut which was filled with British flavored pop with a slight edge. The second was the slightly-psychedelic, pre-prog-rock classic Odessey and Oracle, which was the band’s masterpiece. Released in 1968 after the group had actually disbanded, this album contains twelve richly arranged tracks that are succinct (there is not a single song that lasts as long as four minutes) and of top notch production, done independently by the group members in 1967. The result is an album of bright and melancholy piano tunes with rich vocal harmonies, mellotron, and tight rhythms.

The tracks on Odessey and Oracle alternated between compositions by bassist Chris White and by keyboardist Rod Argent, each possessing a knack for composing original and diverse songs. The album was mainly recorded at Abbey Road studios during the summer of 1967, nearly a full year before its release. The group had a tight budget for recording and worked quickly in the studio. This brisk pace also had negative effects, such as the misspelling of “odyssey” in the cover design (which forever changed the album’s official title) and creative tensions among the group members, which ultimately led to their demise by the end of 1967.

With the group disbanded, CBS Records initially decided not to release the album in the United States. However, producer Al Kooper had heard the album during a trip to England and convinced the label to reverse its decision. The Zombies had previous success in the US during the “British invasion” days of 1964 and 1965 fueled by the singles “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No”. With the release of Odessey and Oracle, another hit single, “Time of the Season”, closed out the decade with their biggest hit.


Odessey and Oracle by The Zombies
Released: April 19, 1968 (CBS)
Produced by: The Zombies
Recorded: Olympic Studios & Abbey Road Studios, London, June–November 1967
Side One Side Two
Care of Cell 44
A Rose for Emily
Maybe After He’s Gone
Beechwood Park
Brief Candles
Hung Up On a Dream
Changes
I Want Her, She Wants Me
This Will Be Our Year
Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)
Friends of Mine
Time of the Season
Band Musicians
Colin Blunstone – Lead Vocals
Rod Argent – Piano, Organ, Melotron, Vocals
Paul Atkinson – Guitar, Vocals
Chris White– Bass, Vocals
Hugh Grundy – Drums, Vocals

 

The perfect English pop of Argent’s “Care of Cell 44” starts the album with a very upbeat tune with just a tad of tad of melancholy. The Zombies’ extraordinary vocal talents are apparent right from the start, led by lead vocalist Colin Blunstone and the gorgeous harmonies of the rest of the band. This unique song tells the uncommon story of an impending release of a prison inmate and was the lead single for Odessey and Oracle, although it failed to chart. The ballad “A Rose for Emily” is like a subdued “Eleanor Rigby”, driven by Blunstone’s lead vocal melody and Argent’s simple rudimental guide piano and again contains multipart vocals in the chorus. The song concludes with nicely diminished ending chords, following the sad closing lyric;

And as the years go by, she will grow old and die, The roses in her garden fade away, not one left for her grave, not a rose for Emily…”

“Maybe After He’s Gone” alternates between Paul Atkinson picked folk guitar during mellow verse and a driving chorus with heavy harmonies and piano. This is a great mood piece of pure, high end sixties pop. Atkinson returns with a very interesting guitar Leslie effect on “Beechwood Park”, good folk song with more great vocal harmonies and a vibe similar to Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale”. White’s “Brief Candles” has been called a true piece of songwriting genius, with soft piano verses giving way to mellotron drenched choruses held tight by the drum-driven rhythm of Hugh Grundy. The song alternates moods masterfully. Side one concludes with the mainly psychedelic “Hung Up on a Dream”, with a heavy reverb on Argent’s piano and the best guitar work by Atkinson on an album which used his talents strategically.

The second side begins with White’s “Changes”, containing two distinct sections, which seem to compete with each other. One part is almost like a choir recital while another contains bongos and other percussive effects trading off with the mellotron in this fine psychedelic rocker. Argent takes lead vocals “I Want Her, She Wants Me” is upbeat, much like the opening track with Argent’s harpsichord, White’s very bouncy bass by White and more pop/rock-oriented harmonies than on most other tracks on the album. “This Will Be Our Year” is a great rock ballad, not the slow and sappy kind, but the upbeat yet romantic, with very good vocals by Blunstone, who pretty much carries the song alone with none of the usual harmonies.

Written and sung by White, “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)” is the most far-out, freak-out song on Odessey and Oracle, starting with a sound effect and driven throughout by deep and dark organ sound for a raw effect like later punk, but a bit more legitimate. The lyrics tell of a battle from the viewpoint of a soldier in the midst of the fight in World War I, which many took as a thinly-disguised comment on Vietnam. “Friends of Mine” brings the mood back up instantly with duo vocals and breezy pop, this song is a great setup for the album’s climatic ending.

“Time of the Season” would become the group’s best known song and biggest hit, and provided an extremely strong ending to the album. This song truly has it all; a great bass riff by White, tight drums by Grundy, pure hip mood with whisper effects, perfectly breezy and unique vocals by Blunstone, and a couple of Hammond organ jams by composer Rod Argent. Although it was recorded in August 1967, it would not be heard by most of the world until early 1969, when it reached #3 in the US and the Top Ten in several other nations.

Odessey and Oracle is an indelible final statement by a rock group which was together for too short a time. Rod Argent and Chris White soon formed an offshoot group “Argent”, which worked through the early 1970s. It wasn’t until 1997 that the group performed any of the material live, during a brief reunion to promote their box set. A decade later, in 2008, The Zombies celebrated the 40th anniversary of Odessey and Oracle‘s release by performing the album in its entirety for the first time every.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

Deep Purple 1968 Albums

Buy Shades of Deep Purple
Buy The Book of Taliesyn

Deep Purple 1968 AlbumsDeep Purple arrived on the music scene like a tornado in 1968. Conceived as a super group called Roundabout in 1967, the band went through much personnel shifting before the renamed quintet was in place in early 1968. Within that year, the group would record and release their first two albums, Shades of Deep Purple and The Book of Taliesyn. Both of these albums involved a fusion of long instrumental jams, original interpretations of famous cover songs, and a handful of originals written by band members. In between the prolific writing and recording, Deep Purple also went on extensive tours of Europe and opened for Cream at the height of that band’s popularity.

The group’s debut, Shades of Deep Purple was released in the summer of ’68. Although it didn’t gain much attention or sales in the their native UK, it was a success in the US, where it fit better stylistically. The grandiose fusions of cover songs with long introductions were some of the earliest examples of progressive rock with just a hint of sixties psychedelic music. Also, the group’s American upstart label, Tetragrammaton, was actively looking for a British band to work with on their new label and offered much more affirmative support to this brand new band than an established British label would have done.

Like the debut album, The Book of Taliesyn was produced by Derek Lawrence and it follows the same psychedelic/progressive rock template of the debut, with the exception of a few notable originals. The title of this album was taken from a 14th century Welsh manuscript which contained poems attributed to the 6th-century poet Taliesin. After this album was released in October ’68, Deep Purple embarked on a rather excessive tour in the United States.


Shades of Deep Purple by Deep Purple
Released: July, 1968 (Tetragrammaton)
Produced by: Derek Lawrence
Recorded: De Lane Lea Studios, London, May 11-13, 1968
Side One Side Two
And the Address
Hush
One More Rainy Day
Prelude: Happiness/I’m So Glad
Mandrake Root
Help!
Love Help Me
Hey Joe
The Book of Taliesyn by Deep Purple
Released: December 11, 1968 (Tetragrammaton)
Produced by: Derek Lawrence
Recorded: De Lane Lea Studios, London, August-October 1968
Side One Side Two
Listen, Learn, Read On
Wring That Neck
Kentucky Woman
Exposition / We Can Work It Out
Shield
Anthem
River Deep, Mountain High
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
Rod Evans – Lead Vocals
John Lord – Organ, Keyboards, Vocals
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
Nick Simplar – Bass, Vocals
Ian Paice – Drums

 

The instrumental “And the Address” starts off Shades of Deep Purple with organist Jon Lord‘s long, low rotating rumble. This accelerates to a higher pitch after about a minute-long intro before breaking into the main rock riff by Ritchie Blackmore with a whining guitar lead and a later, faster lead by Lord, showing Deep Purple was about this dynamic duo right from the very beginning.

Shades of Deep Purple“Hush” was Deep Purple’s biggest early hit as well as a hard rock classic. With the thumping bass line by Nick Simplar, the “Na-Na” vocal hook, and a fluctuating organ solo by Lord which seems to be constantly searching to find its end before finally reaching resolution with the final verse. “Hush” was written by American songwriter Joe South and was a minor hit for Billy Joe Royal in 1967. The Deep Purple version was a much bigger hit, peaking at #4 in the US and #2 in Canada.

A whistle organ brings in upbeat, sixties-flavored “One More Rainy Day”, featuring crooning vocals by Rod Evans, an interesting, bouncy bass line by Simper, and well-animated drum fills by Ian Paice, but virtually no presence at all by Blackmore’s guitar. Side one closes with the jam/cover medley of “Prelude: Happiness/I’m So Glad”. This second great instrumental contains a fantastic drum march/roll and a very dramatic climax before it all resolves with the calm riff of Skip James’s “I’m So Glad”, which is not all that different from Cream’s earlier version on their 1966 debut album, Fresh Cream, but with just a bit more restless tension.

The second side of the debut begins the strong blues-based heavy rocker “Mandrake Root”, featuring Evans deep vocals and a driving rhythm section backing up the frantic lead by Lord. Later, Blackmore abruptly interrupts with an effect-laden, Eastern-inspired lead section of his own on this song which got its title from a hallucinogenic plant. “Help!” is the best cover from these early albums, with a real moody and quasi-psychedelic keyboard intro which leads into a subtle and quiet entry into the finger-picked guitar of the first verse. Evans provides very soulful vocals, probably his best vocals on the debut album, and after using the original Beatles’ intro as a bridge, the song breaks into a showcase section of Lord’s and Blackmore’s talents before dissolving softly in a return to the intro. “Love Help Me” is an original by Blackmore and Evans that is very similar in approach to “Hush”, but tilts more towards sixties music flourishes and vocals and seems to suffer production-wise as much of the instrumentation gets lost in the mix and Blackmore’s short wah-wah guitar leads are way out front. Closing the album is another jam/cover with an instrumental reprise of “Mandrake Root” before morphing into the oft-covered “Hey Joe”, which almost feels like an afterthought, as it pretty much mimics the Jimi Hendrix version but in a more laid back fashion.

On the debut albums, many of the highlights came during the original re-interpretations of these cover songs. However, on The Book of Taliesyn, it is the Deep Purple originals which really stand out. “Listen, Learn, Read On” is the default title song of the album with a heavy reverb on Evans’ vocals and a manical driving drum beat by Paice in between measured riffs and leads by Blackmore. “Wring That Neck” is an upbeat, bluesy instrumental jam that was an instant classic. Starting with Lord’s uniquely distorted organ riff and moving through a few inspired guitar solos by Blackmore (some completely solo), the piece continuously returns to the infectious main riff. “Wring That Neck” was released as a single from the album and is a true preview of “Mark II” Deep Purple of years forward.

The Book of TaliesynThe other single from the album was the cover of Neil diamond’s “Kentucky Woman”, which is driven by the pulsating bass of Simplar and the crazy drumming of Paice. While this song did reach the Top 40, it was considered a failure by the label because it was nowhere near as big a success as “Hush” had been earlier in the year. Another jam/cover medley follows with the near program piece of “Exposition”, complete with drum rolls behind deliberate guitar riffing. After going through a few very intense iterations, the piece dissolves into a groovy beat led by Simplar’s bass and the Beatles’ hit “We Can Work It Out”.

On the second side of The Book of Taliesyn, Deep Purple breaks away from the mode of their first album with a couple of truly original songs, which really make this album diverse and interesting. “Shield” builds on Paice’s drums, followed by a bass riff, guitar overlay, and piano by Lord. The vocals are very laid back and measured and the song’s best parts are when the piano and guitar harmonize for a slow but powerful riff. A percussion section in the middle leads to a partially improvised jam section and the ending percussion reprisal contains cool, rounded bass notes by Simplar. “Anthem” is a fine acoustic ballad with a great chorus harmonized hook. It’s only flaw is a production flaw, where the entire arrangement suddenly drops out for Lord’s organ intro into a middle string section, showing the groups classical leanings. This middle section also contains a great lead by Blackmore, which sounds like something Brian May might perform, and when full band returns it is at top form with a second back-to-back guitar lead by Blackmore and fantastic drumming by Paice. “River Deep, Mountain High” is the climatic ending to The Book of Taliesyn with more musical drama, including a musical mock-up of the title score to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey before building into the frantic groove of the soul cover of this hit by Ike & Tina Turner.

Keeping up a tremendous scale of production, Deep Purple recorded and released their third album in 12 months, in early 1969, However, the fledgling Tetragrammaton Records was starting to fizzle out and could offer only lackluster promotion, causing that album to sell poorly. Further, the band was starting move in a heavier musical direction, which resulted in the replacement of Evans and Simpler and the end of Deep Purple’s “Mark I” era.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

A Saucerful of Secrets
by Pink Floyd

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A Saucerful of Secrets by Pink FloydA Saucerful of Secrets is the only album by Pink Floyd to feature all five group members. This was due to the album being recorded before (late 1967) and after (early 1968) the departure of guitarist and chief songwriter Syd Barrett. Due to this, the group took two separate approaches to the album, which was produced by Norman Smith and recorded mainly at Abbey Road Studios. The first was as a continuation of their successful 1967 debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, while the latter approach was a journey into unchartered territory with tracks composed by other band members. The result is an album which contains as many (if not more) sound collages as it does proper rock songs.

After the release of the band’s debut in mid 1967, it was apparent that Barrett’s behavior was becoming increasingly erratic and unpredictable. Barrett’s friend and “understudy” David Gilmour was brought in to help out with Barrett’s guitar and vocal parts live. During the earliest sessions for A Saucerful of Secrets in the Fall of 1967, Barrett was still considered the group’s chief songwriter and he did compose several songs. However, most of these recordings were omitted from the album, with “Apples and Oranges” and “Paint Box” released as the band’s third international single in October 1968, and the rest left off due to various levels of non-satisfaction. These included the tracks Vegetable Man”, “Scream Thy Last Scream”, and the maddening “Have You Got This Yet?”, which Barrett performed differently every single time, making it impossible for the other group members to learn their parts.

Barrett was dismissed from Pink Floyd in January 1968, leaving a new incarnation of Pink Floyd to finish the album. The band initially struggled to come up with this material, with all four remaining members contributing some songwriting and vocals. The first tracks from these sessions, “It Would Be So Nice” and “Julia Dream”, were also released as a non-album single in April 1968. After a few more songs were completed, the group still felt there was not enough material for an album and each contributed to the twelve minute, experimental title track to fill this gap.


A Saucerful of Secrets by Pink Floyd
Released: June 29, 1968 (EMI)
Produced by: Norman Smith
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, October 1967-May 1968
Side One Side Two
Let There Be More Light
Remember a Day
Set the Controls for..
the Heart of the Sun
Corporal Clegg
A Saucerful of Secrets
See-Saw
Jugband Blues
Band Musicians
Rick Wright – Piano, Organ, Mellotron, Vocals
Syd Barrett – Guitars, Vocals
David Gilmour – Guitars, Vocals
Roger Waters – Bass, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums

 

A Saucerful of Secrets begins with a three part mini-suite called “Let There Be More Light”. The first part contains a really cool and sharp bass riff by Roger Waters which later dissolves into the bouncy and mocking main section, which alternates between the marching vocals of harmonies of the verse and the harder refrain part with Gilmour on vocals. The closing guitar section features Gilmour providing multiple riffs simultaneously. “Let There Be More Light” was also released in edited form as the fourth single by Pink Floyd.

“Remember a Day” was a song left over from the debut album and was written and sung by keyboardist Richard Wright with Barrett providing a lot of the effect through his slide, lead, and acoustic guitars. The most melodically cohesive song on the album’s first side, this song contains a great piano above a strong rhythm by Waters and drummer Nick Mason. The song was never performed live by Pink Floyd, making it a true forgotten classic from the era when the group was alternating between British pop and pyschedelia, as this song straddles both.

“Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” is the only song on which features all five group members. It was first performed and recorded with Barrett in 1967 and later featured guitar overdubs by Gilmour. Written by Waters, the lyrics were inspired by a book of Chinese poetry and the song was a successful part of their live set for years.
 

 
“Jugband Blues” is the only track on the album written and performed by Barrett and perhaps one of the most haunting songs with Syd apparently singing about his own demise; “…and I’m wondering who could be writing this song…” – an epitaph of Barrett’s short reign as band leader. Barrett enlisted a Salvation Army band to play on this eclectic track which features a three time signatures and dissolves into a slowly strummed acoustic during the final outro which closes the album along with Barrett’s tenor with Pink Floyd.

Waters’ rocker “Corporal Clegg” is the first Pink Floyd song to address the recurring theme of war, as Waters dedicated it to his father. Musically, the song features a good wah-wah guitar on top of a steady and melodic organ before breaking into odd but entertaining kazoo sections. The song is also notable for featuring rare lead vocals by Mason. The dreamy and distant “See-Saw” is the second song written and sung by Wright and features much of the same childlike themes of “Remember a Day”. It features strummed acoustic and a cool electric with heavy chorus effects along with a vibraphone, xylophone and strong mellotron, to convey a great mood and a totally Abbey Road production.

The title song, “A Saucerful of Secrets”, is a twelve minute experimental and avant-garde piece broken into four sub-chapters. It reaches an eerie climax in the first section before the brilliant “Syncopated Pandemonium” section, fueled by Mason’s drum loop, Wright’s haunting piano chords, and a wild theramin effect. Later the song settles into a melodic organ with vocal choruses in a section entitled “Celestial Voices”. “A Saucerful of Secrets” is what the Beatles’ “Revolution #9” should have been and has been dubbed a “masterpiece of psychedelic rock”.

The album A Saucerful of Secrets reached the Top Ten on the UK Albums charts and marked the beginning of an era when the band entered their most experimental phase. Syd Barrett went on to record two solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett in 1970 with Gilmour and Waters helping out with production, before totally withdrawing from public life.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

At Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash

Buy At Folsom Prison

At Folsum Prison by Johnny CashClassic Rock Review only covers studio albums, not compilations or live albums. But there will be one exception to this rule – At Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash. This totally unique and legendary record, by one of the legendary founders of rock and Americana, may be the most honest album of all time. The album was recorded in one day at Folsom State Prison in California, where Cash performed two nearly identical shows during the morning and afternoon of January 13, 1968, with 15 tracks chosen for the album. We mentioned this during our Feature on Live Albums, when we proclaimed the studio album exclusivity. But again, this is an exception due to the artist and its place in time.

Cash had the concept of recording an album live in a prison since he wrote “Folsom Prison Blues” in 1955 and he finally got the go-ahead in 1967 from Columbia Records and producer Bob Johnston. Still, Cash mainly financed the project himself. Accompanying Cash on stage were “The Tennessee Three”; guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant, who had worked with Cash since he moved to Memphis in 1954, and drummer W.S. Holland. The performers rehearsed for days, an uncommon occurrence for them, and were even visited by California governor Ronald Reagan during a rehearsal.

A few of the songs recorded but not released on the original album were the country waltz and farmer’s lament “Busted” and “Joe Bean”, a song about a prisoner falsely accused who faces a hanging on his birthday. “The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer” is a theatrical song, written by Cash and his future wife June Carter, from the 1963 album Blood, Sweat, and Tears. With metallic hammer sounds throughout, this recording  suffers from too many tempo changes (which is probably why it was ultimately left off the album).

Cash himself was no stranger to run-ins with the law. Having struggled with drugs and alcohol, he was arrested several times in the late fifties and early sixties. Although he never served a prison sentence, these incidents helped cultivate his outlaw image which he embraced throughout his career. Still, Cash credits this album and the ensuing fame as helping turn his life around.


At Folsum Prison by Johnny Cash
Released: May, 1968 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bob Johnston
Recorded: Live at Folsom State Prison, January 13, 1968
Side One Side Two
Folsom Prison Blues
Dark As a Dungeon
I Still Miss Someone
Cocaine Blues
25 Minutes to Go
Orange Blossom Special
The Long Black Veil
Send a Picture of Mother
The Wall
Dirty Old Egg-Suckin’ Dog
Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart
Jackson
Give My Love to Rose
I Got Stripes
Green, Green Grass of Home
Greystone Chapel
Primary Musicians
Johnny Cash – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica
Luther Perkins – Guitars
June Carter – Vocals
Marshall Grant – Bass
W.S. Holland – Drums

 

The performances actually began with performances by Carl Perkins and The Statler Brothers, who also joined Cash during the latter part of the performance. A prison MC encouraged the prisoners to “respond” to Cash’s performance, but also made personal announcements for prisoners (by number) when they had a visitor, making this all the more real. Cash breaks right into his performance with his signature “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” before breaking into “Folsom Prison Blues”. Cash was inspired to write this after seeing the movie Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison while serving in the Air Force in West Germany. While it wasn’t a big hit originally, this live version became a Top 40 pop hit in 1968 and topped the Country charts.

Many of the remaining  songs on the album fit well with prison, sorrow, and longing for freedom. Merle Travis’s “Dark As a Dungeon” is a slow,  country waltz about Appalachian coal miners, while “I Still Miss Someone” is a short and sweet song with melodic vocals, written by Cash and his nephew Roy Cash Jr. Red Arnall’s “Cocaine Blues” is perhaps the most intense and exciting part of the first side, with the music again employing the famous “train” rhythm and fast shuffle throughout with the two note bass line of Grant, never really deviating until the very end.
 
Johnny Cash on stage at Folsom Prison
 
Shel Silverstein’s “25 Minutes to Go” is a countdown to execution, performed very similar (albeit inverse) to Cash’s famous flood song “Five Feet High and Rising” with a few key changes for effect. On this song, Cash sells the desperation well with lyrics like;

Well I’m waiting for the pardon that well set me free, with 9 more minutes to go, but this ain’t the movies so forget about me, 8 more minutes to go…”

On the traditional fiddle song “Orange Blossom Special”, Cash plays harmonica and sings all the parts in this frantic and breathless song with great drum rolls by Holland.

Cash then performed several ballads and folk songs solo, with just his acoustic guitar. “The Long Black Veil” is a haunting folk song, with haunting but beautiful vocals by Cash, which tell a story about a man falsely accused but refuses to provide an alibi in order to save the honor of his best friend’s wife. “Send a Picture of Mother” is a Johnny Cash original and pure folk song which shows that Cash’s originals are still the best songs in this collection. Harlan Howard’s “The Wall” is a song about escaping prison;

Well, the warden walked by and said son don’t try, I’d hate to see you fall, well, there is no doubt, they’re carry you out if you ever touch that wall…”

…lyrics to which Cash comments “they’re mean bastards, aren’t they?” A couple of novelty songs from his album Everybody Loves A Nut follow, “Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog” and “Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart”, adding comic relief to the show.

June Carter and the Tennessee Three bring the level back up with the recent hit from 1967, “Jackson”, one of the highlights of the second side. The album then concludes with a quartet of songs specifically about prison. “Give My Love to Rose” is a Cash original in the traditional tragic country form about a prisoner and his lament of not seeing his wife and son. This has a much larger chord set than most Cash songs, with guitarist Luther Perkins doing a great job with the subtle changes. “I Got Stripes” gets back to the upbeat train rhythm, while Curly Putman’s popular worldwide sixties tune “Green, Green Grass of Home” features the Statler Brothers and June Carter returning to the stage.

The album concludes with “Greystone Chapel”, an original composed by Glen Sherley, who was then an inmate at Folsom. Sherley made a recording of the song and passed it on to a pastor who regularly visited inmates at Folsom, who then got it to Cash. The inclusion of this song solidifies the authenticity of the album and its intent.

At Folsom Prison reached the Top 20 in several countries and really revitalized Cash’s career, with several of his earliest recordings making a popular comeback in subsequent years. Cash would record two more live albums at prisons; San Quentin in California in 1969 and Österåker Prison in Sweden in 1972. He also soon took on the persona of “The Man in Black” to show his solidarity with all the downtrodden.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.